North Tahoe Fire seeks new revenues: Property owners to vote on annual fee of $48
In the wake of this summer’s devastating fire season, the North Tahoe Fire Protection District has realized a critical need to improve and expand its fire protection and fighting services.
“The lessons we’ve learned (have) made it abundantly clear that we lack in many areas,” said North Tahoe Fire Chief Duane Whitelaw. “Our whole effort is to help ensure that if we do have a fire, we minimize the loss of life, property, the environment and the economic (impact) in the basin.”
Funded primarily through taxes and contract revenue, the fire district can not expand its services beyond what it offers without additional funding sources.
That’s why the North Tahoe district’s board of directors voted unanimously at their meeting last week to call for voter approval of a special benefit assessment for fire suppression.
If passed, a $48 assessment would be added to property taxes for owners within the North Tahoe Fire Protection District’s boundaries. The fee would be adjusted annually to follow the consumer price index, not to exceed an annual increase of 3 percent.
Property owners within the district should receive a mail-in ballot at their primary residence within the coming week. Only property owners, including second-home owners, are qualified to vote on the fire measure.
Ballots are due on Oct. 23, when the 45-day voting window closes. A public hearing will be held the evening of Oct. 23 to discuss the measure. An impartial third party hired by the fire district will count the votes, and a decision would be released at the end of October.
More than 250 homes were destroyed in the Angora fire earlier this summer, and blazes have destroyed nine homes so far this year in the North Tahoe District – five were taken in the Washoe fire and four homes fell victim to single-structure fires.
If voters approve the fire tax, the district would use the funds to improve response time to emergencies, contract helicopters for water drops on fires, and modernize radio communication systems, Whitelaw said.
The funds would also be used for prevention efforts. The district intends to increase its inspection capacity for defensible space – including the inspection of vacant lots – and double its chipping program, Whitelaw said.
“We have been so far behind (on chipping) because people have really taken to heart the importance and value of defensible space,” Whitelaw said. “We have to be able to get the material out of their yard – that is where we would put some of the money.”
The North Tahoe Fire District would also like to see a fuels-treatment crew developed to assist the U.S. Forest Service in forest thinning, as well as fighting wildland fires, Whitelaw said.
“This assessment – it’s important that people understand – this is to address new things that we’re not currently doing, as a result of the lessons learned this fire season,” Whitelaw said. “Our funding is stable to do the things that we currently do, but we’ve identified things that we want to do better, or do more of. And that’s what this money will go (toward).”
The fire district’s five-member board would appoint a citizen’s financial oversight committee to conduct an annual review of the expenditures, ensuring the assessment fund is used for its intended purpose, improving fire prevention and fire ground operations.
For more information, visit http://www.ntfire.net, or call the North Tahoe Fire Protection District at (530) 583-6913.